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China's rare earth policy backs Apple into a corner

Report says fondleslabs factories are located near source

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Apple’s shiny fondleslabs are made in China not only because of the low cost of labour in the People’s Republic but also due to the surging prices and tightening export restrictions on rare earth minerals which the nation has a near monopoly on, according to a report.

Although Apple has been notoriously secretive about the materials it uses to produce the iconic tablet, tech repair site ifixit.org spoke to Cambridge professor Tim Coombs who reckons the fondleslab could be packed with the rare minerals.

First up there could be lanthanum in the device’s lithium-ion polymer battery, while the magnets along the side and in the cover were pegged as containing neodymium alloy, followed by a selection of rare earths to produce the different colours in the display, he said.

Apple didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment from The Reg but considering the near-ubiquity of rare earth minerals in modern tech kit and the famously huge margins Cupertino manages to make on its shiny toys, the story does make sense.

As the report suggests, manufacturing the device at or closer to the source of these rare minerals would circumvent China’s increasingly tight export quotas and cut costs pretty significantly.

The problem of supply and demand with these seemingly vital components is only going to get worse, with China – which has a global market share of around 97 per cent – cutting back on the mining of rare minerals apparently due to environmental reasons.

The EU, Japan and US have all lodged complaints with the World Trade Organisation, but as we’ve said before, there is little the body can do legally to compel China to change its mind.

In the meantime, as the economics become even more pressing and supply lines are tightened, more technology manufacturing plants could relocate to the People’s Republic.

Japanese firm Hitachi recently unveiled what it claimed to be a rare mineral-free electric motor.

However, little progress has been made elsewhere in either finding alternative ways to produce tech kit without the precious minerals or finding alternative deposits of minerals outside the People’s Republic. ®

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